US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Surveillance of Nesting Birds, Studies In Avian Biology, No.43, (2012) pp. 185-198.


Photo and video technology has become increasingly useful in the study of avian nesting ecology. However, researchers interested in using camera systems are often faced with insufficient information on the types and relative advantages of available technologies. We reviewed the literature for studies of nests that used cameras and summarized them based on study objective and the type of technology used. We also designed and tested two video systems that we used for three nest predator and behavioral studies. We found 327 studies that recorded 255 bird species spanning 19 orders. Cameras were most commonly used to study nest predators (n = 114), feeding ecology (n = 103), and adult behavior (n = 81). Most systems (69%) were partially or completely user-built. Systems that recorded in real time (≥25 frames per second), time-lapse(<25 fps), and still images were all common, though their use tended to vary by study objective. Using the time- lapse digital video recording systems we designed, we monitored 184 nests of 15 different species. We generally found these low-cost systems (US$350-725 per unit) to be reliable. Sources of data loss were variable by study but included digital recorder malfunction, power failure, and video cable damage due to rodents. Our review of the literature and our own experiences suggest that researchers carefully consider their objectives and study systems when choosing camera technology. To facilitate selection of the appropriate system, we describe general video system design and offer recommendations for researchers based on commercially available system components.